Gaeastar, an innovative startup known for creating compostable clay drinking cups, is set to commence its U.S. pilot with Verve Coffee on April 22nd. Verve, a coffee chain based in Santa Cruz with multiple outlets across California, will introduce Gaeastar’s coffee cups in three of its locations, with plans to expand this initiative. This pilot marks a significant development following a year of collaboration between the two companies to refine the cup prototypes and integrate them into Verve’s operations.

Gaeastar has pioneered a unique 3D printing technology to manufacture these clay cups. The concept originated when company CEO Sanjeev Mankotia observed an incident in New Delhi during the mid-2000s. After his cousin discarded a clay cup used for chai onto the ground, Mankotia challenged her action.

“She said, ‘It’s made out of dirt, why do you care?’” Mankotia recounted in an interview with The Spoon last year. “And I didn’t have a response to that.”

This experience prompted Mankotia to contemplate the potential of clay cups as substitutes for single-use plastics. Traditionally, such containers in India were crafted by local artisans. Mankotia knew this model would require adaptation for the Western market, necessitating the development of a 3D printer capable of mass production. This led to the establishment of Gaeastar’s first micro-factory in Berlin in 2022, which now supplies to a Zurich-based coffee roaster, V-Cafe.

For its U.S. venture, Gaeastar established a micro-factory in San Francisco’s Dogpatch industrial district. Spanning approximately 7500 square feet, the facility houses four of the company’s 3D printers. The clay for the California-based production is sourced from Sacramento and exhibits a higher iron content than its German counterpart, resulting in a noticeably deeper red hue in the finished cups.

Mankotia initially aimed for standardisation, but he later appreciated the value of regional variations in the product.

“That’s the uniqueness of it,” he explained. “Each cup comes out slightly different and has its own fingerprint in some way, which we have been delighted to see the customers love.”

Currently, Gaeastar operates its printers during the day and utilises kilns overnight. However, the company is investigating faster production techniques, including automation and pulsed energy treatments to expedite the firing process.

As part of this initial U.S. rollout, Verve customers can opt for a Gaeastar cup for an additional $2. Mankotia envisions these cups becoming the preferred drinking vessels as the trend away from single-use options grows.

“This single-use concept will go away, whether it happens two or ten years from now,” he stated. “What we have created is really a new category. It’s not your $40 Stanley mug. It’s not your single-use, disposable paper plastic cup.”

Mankotia is focused on refining both the product and the business model through strategic partnerships at this early stage.

“We’re refining it, not only the product but also the business model. That’s why we wanted these pilot partners with us at the start of the journey. We want to develop this product for the customer, not to sit in the lab and try to sell somebody a commodity.”


Sam Allcock, a seasoned entrepreneur with over two decades of expertise in Food & Drink Editorial.

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